Myanmar’s Persecuted Minority

  • Rohingya20girl
    AP Photo: Rohingya Muslim girl Afeefa Bebi holds her hours-old baby brother while her mother receives hospital treatment, just 10 days after fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh.


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Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims have been called the world's most persecuted minority. They are a people without a country. Ongoing violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar is forcing the Rohingya to leave their homes. (See Persecution by the Tolerant.)

In the last two weeks, about 300,000 Rohingya have fled for their lives. They run to already-crowded refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.

Afeefa Bebi and her family crossed from Myanmar into Bangladesh on September 3. This morning, Afeefa’s mother gave birth to a baby boy. A few hours later, a concerned Afeefa carried her newborn brother to a community hospital in the refugee camp. Other family members carried Afeefa’s mother. She was seeking treatment for pain there.

An estimated 1 to 1.2 million people in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine identify as Rohingya. The government of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, refuses to recognize them as a lawful ethnic minority. Instead, Myanmar calls them Bengalis. That implies that their native land is in Bangladesh and they are illegally settled in Myanmar.

But the Rohingya are also unwelcome in Bangladesh. The situation turned dire for the Rohingya after the passage of a 1982 citizenship law. It made most of them stateless and deprived them of many civil rights. The Rohingya are legally restricted in their right to travel, to marry, and in the number of children they may have. Access to sound education, health care, and employment is also limited.

Bangladesh is overwhelmed by the influx of refugees. That nation’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pledged to give aid temporarily. But he is demanding that Myanmar allow the safe return of people he claims are Myanmar’s own nationals.

Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has chosen not to attend next week’s General Assembly of the United Nations due to the crisis in her own country.